Every organization wants and needs strong leaders. But pure, brute-force strength can be as much a liability as an advantage. Think about the South American gaucho of older times taming wild horses. Obviously, a wild horse has tremendous strength, and that strength could be put to use in countless agricultural and transportation applications. A team of wild horses has immense power, which in a physics sense has to do with energy transferred per unit of time. When that power is aligned, far more can be accomplished in a shorter period of time.
Sheer strength is impressive, but without direction it can be remarkably destructive.
But when that power exists without alignment, not only will no work be accomplished, the result could be destruction. Similarly, strong leaders whose goals are aligned can take businesses to unprecedented levels of excellence, while a C-suite full of strong-minded leaders with their own agendas can end up wreaking havoc. Here’s what organizations must do to ensure leaders pull the organization in alignment with common goals.
What Leadership Alignment Means
Leadership alignment does not mean an executive floor full of clones. If all the leaders are alike, then what’s the purpose of having so many of them? Leaders can have their own goals and reach them to the benefit of the entire organization as long as all leaders are in pursuit of common, overarching goals of the organization.
Naturally, different leaders will approach their tasks differently. The CIO will look at a goal from the point of view of someone who wants to ensure the IT infrastructure is equal to the tasks ahead, while the CFO looks at the goals with an eye toward maintaining financial strength. And while there will be conflicts along the way, when leaders are genuinely pursuing aligned goals, it’s far easier to work through those conflicts productively, without any single leader getting everything their way while another completely loses out.
Benefits of Aligned Leadership Goals
What can an organization expect when it makes the effort to ensure that top leadership goals are in alignment? A pleasanter place to work for one thing. But in terms of measurable results, organizations can expect three big payoffs:
Higher operating margins
Faster execution of strategy
Lower employee turnover
Aligned leadership goals benefit the entire organization.
Those are all major benefits that should never be dismissed. When employees understand their individual and team goals and how they contribute to overall organizational success, they’re more engaged with their work, and more productive. And when goals are aligned from the outset, there will be less backtracking or trial and error in putting strategies into place. There will likely also be less duplication of effort. These efforts result in more highly engaged employees, and the value of an engaged workforce is enormous. One widely-quoted Gallup poll found that companies with large numbers of disengaged workers experience 51% higher employee turnover – an expensive and time-consuming problem.
Top Leadership Must Embrace and Encourage Communication
Communication is at the heart of goal alignment, as it is with most other aspects of successful operation of an organization. In today’s tech-soaked world, there is simply no excuse for leaders not communicating with each other. Someone’s being out of office or on an important call doesn’t prevent information from being shared, since we have so many effective modes of communication. Top leaders must not only set an example of regular, meaningful communication, they must encourage it among the entire leadership team, ensuring everyone has the resources they need to communicate effectively.
One of the main purposes of leadership coaching is ensuring that a new or emerging leader works effectively with other leaders. Often, executive coaching clients specifically request help with skills like effective communication and the emotional intelligence necessary to see situations from multiple perspectives. In my many years of leadership coaching, I have seen in person the positive changes that ensue when top-level leaders learn how to lead in alignment, and I have been fortunate to help organizations and leaders develop their ability to do so. If you’re curious about the process of ensuring top leadership goals are in alignment, then I encourage you to learn more about my leadership coaching services.
The “boss” can be an almost cartoonish character in people’s minds. In fact, ask a child what a “boss” is, and they’re likely to describe the virtual enemy they must overcome to advance to a higher level in their favorite video game. This is not to say that a boss is not necessary in some situations. Sometimes at work, things simply must get done, and ruffled feathers can be addressed later on. Not all bosses are leaders, however. Likewise, sometimes leaders must, in tactical measures, behave like a boss. So, is your boss a true leader? And if you’re the boss, are you seen as a leader?
Here are 5 Differences Between a “Boss” and a “Leader”
The stereotypical “boss” may have little in common with a true leader.
1. Leaders Lead, while Bosses Push
A true leader is someone you would willingly follow into battle. They don’t need to push people to get good performance out of them, because they make people want to do what they do to the best of their ability. There may be rare occasions when a leader must be more specific to deal with incidents and deadlines, but they don’t primarily get performance by dragooning their team into completing tasks.
2. Bosses Tend to Talk More than They Listen
A boss who is not a true leader tends to talk more than listen, with the attitude being, “Do this, and don’t ask questions, because I know what I’m doing.” Leaders, by contrast, tend to listen more than they talk. A leader wants to know if there’s a bottleneck in the process, or if there’s a better way to accomplish things, and is not threatened by suggestions from people “under” them.
3. Leaders Get into the Trenches with their Teams
Leaders are not only willing to get into the trenches with their teams, they find it the experience meaningful and empowering. Maybe the person who inspects the engineering drawings is out of town, so the leader draws on their relevant engineering experience to take over the inspection in the meantime. Or maybe the restaurant is slammed, so the leader plates orders and keeps things moving. Leaders aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and do real work.
True leaders know when to get into the metaphorical trenches with their teams.
4. Bosses Get Things Done; Leaders Get Things Done While Empowering and Motivating
A good boss gets things done. Products get made and shipped. Numbers get crunched on time. Objectives get met almost all the time. A leader, however, takes it a step further, by ensuring things get done by a team that is empowered to solve problems and motivated to do their best work. Leaders empower and motivate by listening, by seeking to understand, and by being willing to get their hands dirty when necessary.
5. Bosses Sometimes Need Fear; Leaders Don’t
Fear, unfortunately, is an overused tool by some bosses. They believe it is more straightforward to intimidate people into doing their work with threats of firing or other retaliation than to learn about the people they work with and discover better ways of meeting goals. Leaders, on the other hand, don’t need to use fear as a productivity “stick.” They take the time to get to know their team members and what makes them tick, and they work with people as individuals rather than cogs in a machine.
Leadership coaching sometimes involves teaching someone the difference between being a “boss” and being a “leader.” Particularly if someone rises to a top leadership position based on what they accomplish on paper, they may find that what worked at lower levels of leadership is no longer effective when working with people higher up the corporate food chain.
CEO coaching, in particular, may require helping company leaders to re-envision their role with the understanding that it’s time for others to worry about directing day-to-day operational work while they worry about the longer-term success of the organization. Seeing someone make the transition to being a true leader is perhaps the most rewarding aspect of leadership coaching, and I feel fortunate indeed to have been a part of that process over the years. If you’re interested in what makes businesses work effectively, I invite you to check out my blog, which deals with not only leadership, but also corporate culture, talent management, and creating a lasting legacy.
What people want from executive coaching isn’t changing, but how they expect to get it is. It’s the same with any type of coaching. A major league pitching coach in 1970 worked differently from a major league pitching coach of today, because the clients changed, expectations changed, and because technology has allowed new ways of delivering effective coaching.
The game of success remains largely the same, but the tools to produce success evolve.
The same is true in business. Executives want to be effective and to leave a lasting, positive legacy, but the techniques and technologies they use to learn how to do that are evolving along with just about every other aspect of business. Here are a few of the ways executive coaching is expected to change in coming years.
Executive Coaching Certification and Accreditation Increasingly Important
Calling oneself an executive coach and actually being an effective one are not necessarily connected. Coaching certification programs have increased in number in recent years, and in general that’s a positive development. However, not all coaching certification programs are of high enough quality to consistently turn out executive coaches who are effective and successful with their clients.
To that end, accreditation of coaching certification programs has become increasingly important, and will continue to increase in importance as executive coaching is employed in more businesses. Companies and individuals who are going to be making an often-substantial investment in an executive coach want to be confident there will be a positive return on their investment. Hence, indicators like certification by an accredited training program will become increasingly necessary for the executive coach.
Fast, Measurable Results Expected
Coaching is far more than just a feel-good exercise that boosts a client’s confidence. Coaching clients, and their companies want to see measurable results over a defined timeline. Companies can’t wait a year or two for a newly-appointed C-level executive to reach full competence, so they want to hire an executive coach who can help deliver results both long term and short term.
The executive coaches who do this are the ones who arrive equipped with powerful assessment and analytical tools, so they can work with the client to establish a baseline, define goals and objectives, and develop an actionable plan for reaching those goals and objectives. Companies and clients want results that are demonstrable and that make a measurable difference.
App-Based Coaching Platforms and Online Tracking of the Coach-Client Relationship
Apps won’t replace the human executive coach. It simply isn’t possible for an app to simulate the type of actual human relationship that executive coaching requires. However, app-based coaching platforms are expected to increase in number, making coaching tools such as assessments and tracking functions faster, easier, and more accurate.
Technology will make tracking success of the coaching process easier and faster.
Such technological tools could, for example, make it easy and fast for a coaching client to check their progress against milestones regularly, so that when an in-person coaching session occurs, time can be devoted to more important matters, such as learning and practicing new techniques for better leadership. Technology won’t supplant coaching, but will likely make it more efficient.
Niche Coaching and Coaching for Non-Executive Leaders
Coaches that work primarily within a single industry are expected to increase in number. While leadership has many universal characteristics, what is required from the healthcare executive is different than what is required from the mining and petroleum executive. Coaches specializing in niche areas are likely to increase in number in coming years.
Likewise, coaching may become more accessible to non-executive leaders, and this is a positive development too. Overwhelmingly, when people leave their jobs, they’re leaving a bad manager rather than a company. Top executives can only be so effective when they’re worried about lower level managers ruining morale and making bad decisions. Expect that as companies are able to devote resources, they will enlist in leadership coaching for non-executive leaders as well as their top executives.
Executive coaching, like most other professions, is evolving. The emerging generation of top leaders grew up in a profoundly different world than did the top leaders of the 20th and early 21st centuries. The importance of coaching is becoming more widely appreciated, and technology and specialization are helping both executive coaches and clients to work together more effectively, for faster, measurable results. If you won’t accept anything other than the most effective business environment, I encourage you to check out my blog, which go into depth on timeless subjects like talent development, corporate culture, and performance management.
If you have decided to work with an executive coach, or to hire one for one of your company’s leaders, then you are to be commended. Executive coaching is one of the most powerful and effective ways to unleash leadership potential and improve performance. But how do you choose an executive coach? Clearly, they’re not all the same, coming from vastly different backgrounds, and with different skill sets and experience levels. Here are 5 questions you should ask of any executive coach you consider hiring, whether for yourself or for a leader in your organization.
More companies are realizing the immense value of executive coaching to company leadership.
1. What Is Your Experience, and Which References May I Contact?
A leader who has achieved a top leadership position through many years of work, study, and dedication needs an executive coach who likewise has sufficient experience to have learned many lessons – about people in particular and about business and humanity at large. And while coaches often use confidentiality contracts, they nonetheless should have past clients you can contact to learn more about what the coaching process was like.
2. What Is Your Executive Coaching Methodology?
There’s no single “correct” methodology, because coaches themselves differ so much. But your prospective coach should be able to describe to you in detail what their approach is, why they use it, and what types of results you can expect. They should also be willing to show you a track record of results their methodology of choice delivers.
3. How Do You Define and Measure Success in a Coaching Context?
Coaches and clients need to be on the same page about how to define success in the coach-client context. If the client wants to improve their delegation skills, but the coach is hung up on some other key to success, the process will be less successful. Both parties should agree on what “success” means in context, how they will measure a baseline level of competency, how they will measure progress, and what they expect over the course of the coach-client relationship.
It’s hard to measure results if you don’t agree on what success means.
4. Do You Have Both Accredited Certification and Relevant Business Experience?
Is certification by an accredited coach training program required for a person to be an executive coach? No. In fact, anyone can say they’re a coach, or use their experience as a life coach as a basis for promoting executive coaching services. Certification by an accredited executive coach training program doesn’t guarantee a coach will be good, but it does offer the client more confidence that the coach has undergone training specific to the business coaching profession. That, plus relevant experience (as confirmed by references) offers greater reassurance to clients.
5. What Types of Activities Do Clients Do Between Coach-Client Meet-Ups?
There may be a period of time at the beginning of the coaching relationship where the coach and client spend a couple of days together, gathering information, doing various assessments, and devising an actionable coaching plan. Afterward, however, clients will be expected to make progress while checking in regularly with their coach in person, by phone, or by video conference. What activities will the client engage in between meetings with their coach, and how will their progress be measured from one meeting to the next? How available is the coach in between scheduled meetings to answer client questions?
The services of a good executive coach can be invaluable, but every client wants to be confident from the start that their investment in executive coaching will deliver results. Don’t be afraid to ask probing questions before signing a contract with an executive coach. If the idea of executive coaching piques your interest, I invite you to learn more about my leadership coaching services. I would be more than happy to talk with you and answer your questions.
When people think of their professional network, they often think of it in terms of job hunting. After all, networks can be valuable resources for finding a new job. But that’s far from all that professional networks are good for. In fact, your professional network can serve you at every stage of your career, from when you’re planting the metaphorical seeds of a great career to when you’re clearing the weeds, to when you reap a bountiful harvest (which you should share, by the way). Leadership coaching may not focus heavily on professional networking, but any leadership coach will tell you that the leader with a strong professional network is likely to outperform the leader who doesn’t have one. Here’s why you should never stop building your professional network and how to do it.
Networks benefit professionals at every stage of their career.
How to Expand Your Professional Network
Perhaps you’re fresh out of school, or have changed industries mid-career. How do you begin to build a professional network that will both serve you well and to which you will be a valuable contributor? Your earliest contacts in your industry – which may include professors or intern supervisors if you’re just starting a career – should deliberately be added to your professional network. LinkedIn is a good platform for doing this, because it sets your professional social contacts apart from your personal contacts, even if some of those people fit into both contexts. Volunteering in industry organizations is another terrific way to expand your professional network. Joining industry associations is a good first step, and beyond that, you can introduce yourself and offer your services to help the association, whether that’s your exceptional organizing skills, your stellar note-taking skills, or even your valuable contacts in the media.
How to Tend to Your Professional Network
You can no more create a professional network and leave it to its own devices than you can plant a garden and then neglect it. Either way, the results will be largely useless. It’s important to create your own strategy for keeping in touch with the people in your network. Some people do this by dropping people a message on a regular basis, by publishing a blog on relevant industry topics, or with the old-fashioned approach of giving people a call now and again to check in. Maintaining your professional network also helps you stay informed about things like who has left the industry or retired, and who some of the newcomers to the industry are. Introduce yourself to the new people, and they are likelier to remember you and be grateful that you reached out to them.
Maintaining your network often naturally leads to expanding it too.
Look for ways You Can Add Value to Your Network
When the topic of networking arises, I always emphasize to my executive coaching clients that you need to give to a network at least as much as you take from it. Connecting colleagues who don’t know each other, but who could benefit from the professional connection is one way. Another is to share relevant content with your professional network. Maybe someone you work with has been in the news after an exciting breakthrough. You can share this information for those who might not encounter the news otherwise. You can also add tremendous value to your network simply by setting a good example. Conducting yourself in a friendly, professional, open manner both online and in person strengthens your bonds with your professional network, and helps ensure that people remember you for all the right reasons.
Your Network Is an Invaluable Resource and Asset
When we think of our professional resources and assets, often we think of things like our college degrees or our track record of technical publications. These are crucial, of course, but it’s easy to forget that our professional network can be one of our most treasured resources and one of our most valuable assets as a professional. I can tell you from my work in leadership coaching that the leaders with strong networks are more respected and get better results than those that don’t bother to maintain a strong professional network. And if you realize that you haven’t been doing your part to strengthen your network, you can start doing so today and start reaping the benefits sooner than you may think.
Most of the business world has moved beyond the idea that executive coaching is only for top leaders who have somehow fallen short and must be given special assistance so as not to derail completely. In fact, executive coaching is, if anything, a sign that someone has arrived, and is someone in whom others place tremendous confidence. The CEO whose company suggests employing the services of an executive coach for them can safely assume that great things are expected of them, and that the company has faith in their ability to meet or exceed expectations.
Executive coaching isn’t about “fixing” problem leaders, but about maximizing outstanding leadership potential.
That said, executive coaching isn’t some sort of magical quest that seeks to impart secret knowledge that only C-level leaders are privy to, but is practical and based on goals that the leader and coach define together. Here are some of the top issues that today’s executive coaches work on with their clients.
Facilitating Maximum Team Performance
What leader doesn’t want to get maximum performance from their team? The issue is that simply wanting better performance doesn’t necessarily lead to getting better performance. With the assistance of the executive coach, a leader can learn how to establish a baseline, define what “better performance” means in measurable terms, and develop an actionable plan to go from here to there.
It’s going to be different with different leaders. Some executive coaching clients may need help with delegation skills, while others may need to make themselves more accessible and less intimidating to team members. By methodically examining client strengths and weaknesses, and enlisting in “360-degree feedback” from those the leader works with, client and coach can learn to identify specific needs and develop practical ways to meet them in order to improve team performance.
Managing Emotions Better
Excellent leaders are masters of their emotions. This is not to say that they don’t feel emotions, or that they’re experts at shutting down emotional responses within themselves. In fact, some leaders may need help with showing vulnerability so that their teams realize there is an actual human being inside that meticulously polished exterior.
Vulnerability isn’t a weakness in a leader. People need to know there’s a real person inside.
At the same time, there are leaders who must learn how to control unreasonable emotional outbursts. You simply can’t intimidate a team into excellence – at least not over the long term. Executive coaches have the tools and the insights that help leaders understand when their emotions (either suppressing them too effectively or not controlling them) get in the way of leading effectively.
Becoming Worthier of Respect
Sometimes it’s difficult for a younger person who is thrust into a position of leadership to feel as if they have the true respect of those they lead. The executive coach can be of tremendous help in these cases. With tools like 360-degree feedback from direct reports, peers, and superiors, the executive coach can help the new leader learn how they are really perceived by others. Good or bad, knowing this is the first step to understanding how to show team members that they are indeed worthy of their confidence and respect.
Executive coaches can then work on ingrained habits like being overly deferential, exhibiting conceited or “entitled” behaviors, or managing through passive-aggressive actions. The executive coach can help the client measure improvement in their relations with team members and identify which behaviors are effective and which are counterproductive.
My experience as an executive coach has taught me that there is no such thing as a “typical” client, because leaders are individuals with as much uniqueness as anyone else. The issues listed above are by no means exhaustive. I have worked with clients to reach a broad range of goals, and have helped clients develop plans that are tailored to them as individuals.
The concept of the keynote speaker is familiar to anyone who has planned or attended a major industry or community event. A great keynote speaker can kick off or bring to an end an event in such a way that the audience leaves with something they didn’t have when they got there. Perhaps they learned an inspiring story about someone overcoming tremendous obstacles. Maybe they had the opportunity to look at their organization or community from a completely different point of view. Or perhaps they were entertained in such a way as to create a lasting, positive association between the event and the organization or community.
A great keynote speech can stick with an audience longer than other agenda items at a professional gathering.
Choosing a keynote speaker is not something that can be done last-minute if there is any expectation of success. There are many keynote speakers available in just about any region, but they’re far from interchangeable. There will probably be a couple that seem particularly germane to your event, and you should learn as much as possible about the speakers on your “short list” so you’ll make the best choice.
Having the right keynote speaker for the event, the audience, and the situation elevates an event from “just another industry meeting” or “just another Founder’s Day festival” to something that will genuinely affect attendees. Pick the right keynote speaker, and people will talk about it for years – in a positive manner!
What Is the Function of the Keynote Speaker?
A keynote speaker is not just “a speaker.” In fact, if you’re tasked with providing a speaker for an event, be certain you know what type of speaker is called for. Some company events, for example, need an industry or company insider to deliver information. Others, however, require the services of a keynote speaker – someone who may or may not be from the same industry, but who has wisdom, inspiration, or motivation to deliver, and who can bring a group of people together into a common experience for a half-hour or an hour.
The following table summarizes the main differences between a keynote speaker, a plenary speaker, and a master of ceremonies.
Master of Ceremonies
Where Do They Come From?
Often from outside the organization, perhaps from a speakers’ bureau
Typically from within the organization holding the event, or the industry. Often a subject matter expert.
Typically from within the organization holding the event
What Do They Do?
Emphasize the underlying theme of the event, motivate the audience, raise enthusiasm among audience members
Deliver a speech or presentation that is relevant to the organization or industry holding the event
Introduce speakers or performers, announce agenda items, recognize sponsors, and provide transitions between program elements
What Is Their Primary Purpose?
Generally to kick off or cap off the event on a high note
Add subject-relevant, “meaty” content to the event
Keep the event on track for time and enjoyable for everyone
Responsibilities of a keynote speaker, plenary speaker, and master of ceremonies may overlap, but generally they’re handled by different people.
How Do You Find the Right Keynote Speaker?
When searching for a keynote speaker, three primary considerations you should take into the selection process are the type of event, the budget, and the audience size. Many times, budget is a limiting factor, but that doesn’t mean you can’t book an outstanding speaker for your event. It may significantly reduce the geographical area from which you’re able to choose, however, so as to minimize travel costs.
Generally, the smaller your budget, the closer to home you’ll need to look, and the greater the likelihood you’ll need to call in a favor (like a local benefactor willing to kick in money for fees or travel costs). Your local Chamber of Commerce, or a local Toastmasters International group are two places to look for keynote speakers that are friendly to the reduced budget.
Before looking over potential speakers’ websites, determine whether you want your keynote speaker to be the opener or closer for your event. Also think about the tone you want to set, and the feelings you want the audience to take away from the event. You can find keynote speakers with a range of styles, from formal to informal, to humorous, or even those who incorporate unusual performance skills.
The farther a speaker will have to travel, and the more famous a speaker is, the more you have to budget for them, and the further in advance you’ll have to book them. It’s important to match the type of speaker to the type of event, regardless. For example, a community-wide event honoring the founder of your town will probably need a different speaker than an industry event honoring the legacy of a departed industry leader.
What Events Are Appropriate for a Keynote Speaker?
Keynote speakers can elevate any type of event, including:
Company celebrations for landing a big client
Retirement parties for prominent leaders
For many of these events, the keynote speaker does not have to be directly associated with an industry or sub-industry. Or, the keynote speaker may be only tangentially associated with the topic at hand, but may have information that resonates with the audience. There may be more light-hearted events where the function of the keynote speaker is primarily to build enthusiasm and entertain. The more closely you match the keynote speaker and their skills to the tone of the event, the more successful your event will be.
If you are in charge of organizing, say, a company event and no one has brought up the topic of having a keynote speaker, it’s worth your time to do so. Often, a keynote speaker can set the tone for the event and turn what would be a good event into an excellent and far more memorable one.
Characteristics of a Great Keynote Speaker
A keynote speaker who can inspire, educate, motivate and entertain is a force to behold.
The characteristics that matter most in the keynote speaker you choose are the characteristics that make the most sense for your event. Some keynote speakers have outstanding talent for educating, while others excel at motivating or inspiring audiences. Still others do a fantastic job of promoting awareness, which can be especially apropos for large charitable events. And there are some keynote speakers whose primary job is to entertain. Know which characteristics make the most sense for your event so you’ll know which speakers belong on your short list.
Any speaker you consider booking should have a website with pertinent information like rates and ways to inquire about availability. You should also find plenty of videos of the speaker, so you can get an idea of their style and substance to determine if they’re a good fit for your occasion. Reviews are also helpful, and independent reviews may offer a more comprehensive view than testimonials you find on a speaker’s own website. With independent reviews, your wisest course of action is to ignore the very best and very worst reviews and take a mental “average” of all the others. Naturally, the more reviews you can read, the better an idea you’ll get as to a speaker’s professionalism and track record.
Lead-Up and Follow-Up to the Event
When you have booked your keynote speaker, it’s not time to sit back and forget about them until the day before the event. Much can be done in the lead-up to the event that will generate buzz and get your audience even more excited for the occasion. Some speakers will engage in an email or audio interview that you can put on your company social network. Or, barring that, you could inform attendees about your speaker: who they are, what their background is, and where they can watch videos of them in action.
On the day of the event, you can generate excitement by setting up a “social media wall” where attendees can “check in” on social media and take selfies and photos of others to share. This could be in front of a large piece of art, a blank white-board with markers available for people to sign in or draw on, or even a life-sized cardboard cut-out of your speaker if you can get one.
As for follow-up, it’s wise to find out up front if your speaker’s standard duties involve a question and answer session immediately following their speech. If so, inform attendees of this so they can be prepared to ask questions. If you plan to treat your speaker to a dinner or other celebratory occasion after their speech, plan well in advance in terms of place, time, and invited guests.
Maximizing Your Keynote Speaker ROI
Some keynote speakers are expensive, because their experience and ability to captivate an audience warrant high fees. Naturally, you want to ensure you get your money’s worth, however much you pay for your keynote speaker. The main ways you do this are with careful research and consideration when choosing your speaker, by making sure event attendees are familiar with the speaker and their style, and by taking care of every possible planning detail to ensure that everything happens as planned, on schedule.
The steps you take before, the day of, and after the event help maximize the return on your keynote speaker investment.
If your company has an internal blog or social network, writing a follow-up blog post or article about the event and the speaker to reiterate the tone and mood and help people remember the event is valuable. The only “bad” thing about maximizing the ROI for your keynote speaker is the fact that next time there is a major event, it may be hard to follow in this year’s footsteps!
Your Back-Up Plan
Successful keynote speakers don’t get that way by being late, or canceling at the last minute, so that probably won’t be your major worry. However, unexpected things do happen. Snowstorms close airports and cancel flights, people unexpectedly become ill or suffer accidents. It’s essential to have a back-up plan ready just in case. Depending on the event, your backup plan could include a local speaker who can be ready at a moment’s notice.
If it’s an informal event, you could see about booking a local dance troop, a high school or community college choir, or a local musician who would be willing to put on a half-hour set. It’s important to raise these possibilities in advance with the people in charge so you can work out a plan that can be set in place quickly, should there be a problem with your keynote speaker.
With an experienced keynote speaker, the chances you’ll have to employ your back-up plan are slim. However, you will be under far less stress in the days leading up to the event if you have one on the back burner, ready to go. Be certain to thank any potential back-up plan participants, even if they end up not being needed.
If You Want to Become a Keynote Speaker
It’s not uncommon to see a rousing keynote speaker and think, “I wish I could do that!” Most people are content to go back to their regular lives, but a few may be sincerely interested in becoming a keynote speaker. It’s not easy, but it can be done. It starts with taking an honest inventory of your personal and experiential assets. Everyone has them, but the combination of experiences and choices that have brought you to where you are is unique to you. Know what you have to offer, whether that is an exceptional life story, a particular skill or talent, or natural affinity for public speaking.
Joining a group for public speaking (like Toastmasters) is a good way to start developing your public speaking skills. You’ll get to practice in a low-risk environment in front of people who genuinely want to help you improve. From here, you can make it known to your boss, local civic groups in which you participate, your place of worship, or other community groups that you’re available for speaking engagements. Tell them the topics you’re prepared to speak on.
You’ll probably start out speaking to small groups, or groups of people who already know you directly or indirectly. That’s OK, because it offers you the opportunity to practice speaking while building confidence. As you gain traction in speaking to local groups, you can expand your potential audience base in several ways:
Creating a dedicated newsletter for your “fans”
Promoting your services and events on social media
Creating and maintaining a blog on your speaking life, complete with a “contact me” button
Offering to speak to groups or write blog posts for organizations that may be interested in you
As you build your reputation, learn what you as a unique individual offer that makes your speeches memorable. One way to do this is to talk to people after a speech, because they’ll usually tell you! Use the utmost professionalism with every engagement, no matter how small, and be sure you’re always completely prepared. For smaller events, you can even stand at the entrance to greet attendees. In other words, go the extra mile so that eventually, your reputation precedes you.
Rare is the person who can make an entire career out of public speaking, but it’s not that uncommon for a person to have a thriving sideline as an in-demand speaker, even if it’s only in your local area. And it can be tremendously rewarding on a personal level. You may or may not choose to join a speakers’ bureau, depending on how much time you want to invest in the details involved in scheduling and promoting your services.
Different speakers bureaus offer different levels of services, so always inquire if you’re unsure what they will help you with.
If you have ever watched a truly gifted keynote speaker, you will probably remember it for years or even decades. It is not an understatement to say that the right keynote speaker can change the way their audience looks at an issue or a topic. In my work as a keynote speaker, I have been privileged to talk to audiences all over the world, and each and every one of them has made me more effective and more passionate about public speaking.
Glossary of Terms
Back-up planning – making plans and provisions for when something goes wrong. Whether it’s in planning out a speaking event, or just about anything else in life, having a workable back-up plan lets you sleep easier, and empowers you to “save the day” when things go wrong. You’re unlikely to have to use your back-up plan in regards to keynote speakers, but you should have one anyway.
Keynote speaker – a public speaker whose job is to establish a theme, build the enthusiasm of the audience, and deliver a core message to the assembled group
Master of ceremonies – a person who presides over an event such as a major meeting, formal dinner, ceremony, or other occasion. The master of ceremonies keeps the event moving, provides transitional information to the audience, introduces speakers, entertainers, and guests, and is the metaphorical “glue” that holds the event together.
Plenary speaker – a speaker who is a notable person in a given industry or field. This person may offer anything from a high-level overview of the state of an industry or scientific field to a highly specific talk on a niche topic.
Speaker fees – the fees a keynote or other public speaker charges to cover their expenses (travel, food, etc.). Professional speakers who give keynote speeches for a living charge fees that permit them to devote their time and effort to their vocation.
Speaker ROI – an often-informal evaluation of what the organization or audience “gets” from a speaker. For example, an audience may be emboldened to tackle a challenging project coming up, or may choose to re-dedicate themselves to their vocation after having listened to a particularly talented and engaging speaker.
Speakers bureau – an organization which operates to make it easier for clients to find the right type of speaker for their event. Such organizations may offer services like booking, arranging travel, and fee collection, though some are strictly committed to helping speakers showcase their talents and make potential clients aware of their services.
The leader who sees the leadership position as little more than the chance to bask in glory is in for a rude awakening sooner or later. While there is absolutely nothing wrong in celebrating accomplishments, ultimately leadership is about the organization being led: is it better or worse because of this leader? Sometimes leadership requires that other people or other situations take center stage. It probably wasn’t long after early humans learned to make fire that the leader of a tribe learned that by holding the torch higher, shedding less light on themselves, they simultaneously created more light for the tribe, to the benefit of everyone.
Leaders cannot forget that they are leading others, and are ultimately there so the organization benefits.
Throughout history, the most outstanding leaders have had some understanding of the significantly longer reputation that comes from letting their actions speak for them. To this day we know relatively little about William Shakespeare, for example, and yet his words transformed the English language, and people still regularly use expressions and quote attributed to his work.
It’s About More Than Just Delegation
One important task of leadership coaching is that of helping a client develop their delegation skills. No modern organization has the time or patience for a micromanager in a top leadership position. But delegation isn’t precisely the same thing as knowing when to step back. There will be occasions where a leader must perhaps swallow their pride and understand that having a particular team member put their skill in a specific area to work is the best choice for everyone involved. For example, you may be a respected lead mechanic, but when a rare, specialty vehicle comes in for service, you realize the value of placing your mechanic who has experience with that particular model in charge of the work.
Sometimes Stepping Back Is an Effective Way to Break Gridlock
Another skill executive coaching clients sometimes seek help with is that of the paradox of too many cooks spoiling the broth. This sometimes manifests as gridlock, because too many people have too much stake in an outcome. There may come a day when a leader must evaluate a situation and its participants, and be brave enough to say, in so many words, “We’ve tried it this way, and it isn’t working. Let’s all step back and try it Brenda’s way this time.” Breaking gridlock can lead to some grumbling, but it is often necessary to get a team moving forward again, and stepping back from a situation can sometimes be the act that finally breaks the gridlock.
Sometimes the only thing that breaks gridlock is someone’s willingness to day, “You know, I don’t have to be first.”
Stepping Up Can Mean Stepping Back
Think about it. Stepping up to a task often means tackling a task that no one else is willing to do, and sometimes that “task” is acknowledging that things need to be done differently. Nobody wants to say it, and it may be up to a leader to officially recognize that things aren’t working and they need to change.
Often closely choreographed with stepping up is stepping back, however paradoxical that may seem. Stepping back is ensuring that others have the space to do their part and shine. In other words, “I’m willing to step up and work with this difficult client, but that means I need you, William, to create a prototype logo by the deadline, and I need you, Harriet, to set up their payment schedule so I can present it to them when I call.” Stepping up and stepping back is a way of letting team members know that we are all in this together.
Succession and Development of New Leaders is Indispensable to Your Legacy
Perhaps the main reason that leaders must learn when to step back and let others shine is for the good of the organization, and to build a lasting legacy. A leader who is so overpoweringly great and whose shoes no one would dare to fill can leave a dangerous power vacuum when they retire or move on. Leadership coaching professionals often work with clients on the importance of development of emerging leaders and the importance of legacy. Most of the time leadership is exactly that – leading a team to great things. But knowing when it’s best to let someone else make the accomplishment (and receive recognition for it) is in the best interests of the team, the organization, and ultimately the leader.
Working on your leadership skills is beneficial regardless of where you are on the company hierarchy. That’s because opportunities to lead exist in just about every occupational level as well as in ordinary non-working life.
However impromptu or informal a presentation is, it benefits from your having strong public speaking skills.
Maybe you don’t plan to make public speaking a regular endeavor, but that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t benefit from developing public speaking skills. And if you’re not sure where to start, you can look at local continuing education courses at community colleges and other institutes of higher learning. Additionally, toastmasters International has clubs all over the world, and joining is affordable for most people.
Some people develop public speaking skills more organically, by looking for opportunities in their work and lives and taking them. There are plenty of excellent online resources, including instructional videos that can help tremendously. And when you develop your public speaking skills, you develop your leadership skills at the same time. Here’s how.
Public Speaking Skills and General Comportment
The concept of “comportment” isn’t typically taught in schools, but it’s important nonetheless. It is how you carry and conduct yourself and is closely related to the general concept of “having good manners,” which isn’t so much about using the correct fork as it is about helping others feel comfortable in your presence.
Excellent public speakers don’t earn their reputation from making people feel ill at ease. The best public speakers know how to put their audience at ease and connect with them. If you can do that with a conference room full of people, a sanctuary full of churchgoers, or an auditorium full of people who want to hear your technical presentation, you can do it in your everyday life, on and off the job. And it makes you stand out from the rest subtly, but positively.
Building Confidence Through Public Speaking
Fear of public speaking is common. Rare is even the most accomplished public speaker who doesn’t feel some level of anxiety before speaking in front of a group. But learning the principles of excellent public speaking and then practicing them regularly is almost unbeatable as a confidence builder. Knowing that you delivered a successful wedding toast or taught a skill to a room full of co-workers carries over when you have to speak with an unhappy client or discuss a problem with a project manager.
In my work as a business coach, while we don’t often explicitly work on building a client’s confidence, that’s what we’re actually doing when working on skills development and addressing skills gaps. Self-confidence is like any other skill in that it requires practice, and what better practice opportunity than public speaking?
Every speaking opportunity is a chance to improve your self-confidence.
Networking Opportunities Often Go with Public Speaking
Whether you are speaking to a group of co-workers, a technical conference, a civic organization, or a group of people gathered to celebrate your boss’s retirement, you’re likely to encounter opportunities to network with new people and strengthen your existing network. Introducing yourself to other participants on such occasions has added impact and makes you more memorable.
Networking is a key leadership skill that many of the best business speakers and leaders have, and indeed it is something that business coaches often work on with their clients. Networks (personal and professional) are like gardens in that they have to be tended to bear fruit.
General Communication Skills Benefit Too
When you learn public speaking, you learn how to organize your thoughts concisely and coherently. Getting up and rambling on about something is not the same as true public speaking. The best public speakers have meticulously organized their words in a framework that allows them to tailor details of their presentation to the audience. Knowing how to do this is important not only in public speaking, but in business writing and your day-to-day communication in general. Have you ever been in a position to evaluate people’s work performance? If so, you probably know that an employee with exemplary communication skills is head and shoulders above an equally qualified employee whose communication skills are lacking.
If you are working toward a top leadership position in your profession, or even if you are simply interested in maximizing your professional potential wherever it takes you, developing public speaking skills is well worth your time and effort. The public speaking skills I have developed in my years as a keynote speaker have carried over into every area of my life, including my work as a business coach.
Maybe you’re not at the point in your career where you’re ready for a top-level leadership position, but that’s fine. Most exceptional leaders started out somewhere other than at the top.
Don’t think of yourself as a follower, but as a leader in training.
The things you do now as a professional can have a profound bearing on whether you have opportunities to lead, and how well you do so when you seize those opportunities. Whatever your level on the corporate ladder, there are several things you can start doing right now that will help you prepare yourself for leadership. Here are some of the most powerful ones.
Know What Being a Good Follower Means
Thinking of yourself as a “leader in training” rather than a follower is a good start. Whatever your position, you can develop leadership skills, even if no one reports to you. You can do so by setting high standards and demonstrating ethical excellence. You can also do so by showing perseverance when faced with challenges. Take the initiative where you can, even if it’s something small, like showing your team leader a more efficient way of completing a process. Show through your actions that you are committed to the team’s mission.
Continually Work on Problem-Solving Skills
Important problem-solving skills include delegating effectively and appropriately, and handling conflicts in constructive ways. Your problem-solving “tool kit” will be invaluable to you as you grow into new leadership opportunities and challenges. When you’re offered personal development or continuing education training, you should take it if at all possible. And whether or not your profession requires re-certification or continuing education, you should take it upon yourself to work on your skill set regularly, because change is inevitable in any industry.
Listen to Others and Ask for Their Feedback
Put down the phone, turn away from the monitor screen, and really listen to people. If it’s important and you want to be certain you understand them, try paraphrasing back to them what they said. Look people in the eye and show that you are paying attention. Even if you are busy, taking those extra couple of seconds will help ensure you understand what they’re saying so there will be fewer misunderstandings. And don’t be afraid to ask for their feedback, and listen to what they say (rather than what you hope they’ll say).
Great listening skills are mandatory for excellence in leadership.
Be Accountable to Yourself and Others
Being accountable is a way of being and is made up of countless small actions done consistently over time. You start by being accountable to yourself, in doing things like getting up on time, making sure you understand work tasks, improving your skills, and asking for help when you need to. Being accountable to others means doing what you say you will. Your accountability is indispensable for building trust with others, and being an effective leader is impossible without trust.
Learn from Failure
Sometimes you’ll get things wrong. Even the most world-renowned leaders have made mistakes – sometimes huge, glaring blunders. But what makes these leaders great is that they learn from failure and keep moving forward. Learning from failure may require you to develop a thicker skin, so you can take constructive criticism effectively. Nobody likes admitting failure or cleaning up the mess and getting back on track, but if you are to have a future as a leader, that’s what you have to do.
Any good executive coach will tell you that the leaders who show the most promise are those who have worked consistently and long term on their skills, their accountability, and their resiliency. My executive coaching career has had me work with some of the top leaders on the planet, and from them I have learned that leadership starts long before the big promotion or being named CEO. Wherever you are in your career, you have the opportunity to build the skills you need to help you become the leader you want to become.